Christmas Eve

Three girls on Christmas Eve sitting on the bleachers of the cancha.

By Padre Spencer

By six the girls’ hair was curled, their faces made-up and they were in dresses.  Some in high heels.  Some with spangled sandals.  One little girls was in a red taffeta dress with a red rose in her hair.  All seventy four girls, the tias who take care of the girls, the film crew, the bus driver, Don Daniello and I got onto the school bus and shuttled through the poorly-lit city of San Pedro on our way to church.  I wore an elf cap and a priestly collar.  A girl asked: “Are you Santa?”  I said, no, I’m an elf, a big elf: Soy elfo, un gran elfo.  

I looked out the window.  A grandfather sat on a porch in his wheelchair.  A mangy dog, part German Shepherd, was caught in the road medium as the cars went by in both directions.  Firecrackers went off, filled the air with a light film.  

A girl awaits her bag of presents.
I was asked to participate in the service, help with the consecration. Several times during the service the girls would make faces at me from their pews.  After the service the seminarian serving the church asked me to say a few words.  I said how grateful I was to be among them in their country and told them why I was here, why the film crew was here.  Then we were back on the bus and into the night once more.  We had a lovely dinner prepared by Dona Diana and a few friends.  We had salad, chicken and rice.  The tables in the cafeteria had gold streamers.  One girl hugged me and said, “You, you are our present this year.”  Another tiny girl, maybe aged four, sat next to me, and asked if I could be her godfather, her padrino.  Then Jim Ellis, who helps the home, a retired pilot, who delivers mail, dressed up as Santa Claus.  The girls collected their packages and then eventually scurried off to their bunk-beds, dragging back their presents, some of the presents almost as big as they were themselves.  For some, who’d come from the State orphanage, it was the first time they’d ever celebrated Christmas.  Kurt, working on the film, said this was one of his top Christmases.  Why was that, I wondered.  

Sometimes in San Pedro, here behind our ten foot walls with bared-wire, God feels close.  When I was trying to figure out what God was in seminary, and not understanding much complicated theology, I remember someone saying from an AA meeting, that God was love.  That made sense. We search for love all our lives and particularly on this day.  Searching for that love from a stable two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. 

"We search for love all our lives and particularly on this day."
The girls have been sleeping all day as I write to you. They have time now.  They’re not in school yet.  They are waiting for their new classes to begin.  The whole world is in front of them.  Can’t you see that in the picture at the top of this article?  I’ll be meeting with a dozen of them soon to talk about the poetry class.  Americans don’t think much about Honduras, I know, but the point of this book and this film is to hopefully have America turn for just a moment in this direction and see the beauty we saw last night.  What did we see?  What did we see in those poorly-built little shacks with strings of light and firecrackers going off?  What was it we saw in all these girls dressed up, their eyes full of joy?  Every girl without a parent in sight.